Tiny tech to transform hearing
cannot be detected without someone peering closely into your mouth.
If, for whatever reason, you need to replace bad teeth, implants are an option (though not a cheap one). They are screwed into the jawbone, then capped with a crown that matches your own tooth enamel. Dentures are cheaper but can often slip out of position, which is one reason why implants are gaining in popularity.
No one relishes the thought of a trip to the dentist but it is something we all learn to endure. For some people though, fear of the dentist turns into a full-blown phobia and they make an appointment only when severe problems arise. The latest adult dental health survey indicates 36 per cent of adults have moderate dental anxiety and 12 per cent have severe anxiety about visiting a dentist.
Dr Douglas Miller has a dental practice in Finchley, north London and specialises in treating those for whom a visit to the chair is an ordeal.
“You have to give them time and be a good listener,” he says. “Give them back an element of control, because very often they have felt out of control at another dental practice. They’ve often had trust issues with their last dentist or even parents who might have held them down, so what you need to do is empower them and make them understand you are working as part of a team with them. You are there to help, to try to ensure they have a comfortable journey in getting the work done that is necessary.”
Dr Miller will often meet the patient first for a consultation. If he can, he will proceed with an examination but he is happy just to get to know the patient and gain trust.
“Ultimately, you are not treating teeth, you are treating the person and you are trying to understand what they are anxious about. Sometimes you have to give them sedatives to calm them down or give them cognitive behavioural therapy to allow them to understand the issues that they have.”
As you age, your risk of getting mouth cancer increases, with most mouth cancers occurring in adults over 50. It is the sixth most common cancer in the world and more frequently found in men than in women, as men tend to drink more alcohol and drinking to excess increases the risk substantially. They also use more tobacco, still the main cause of mouth cancer.
It is easy to miss the early signs of the disease. Common symptoms include a sore that does not heal within three weeks, a lump anywhere in the mouth, white or red patches on the gums or tongue and difficulty in swallowing. Dentists are now more aware of these and other symptoms to watch for, and early diagnosis is possible — another reason to make sure you do not miss your six-monthly check-ups.
IT IS a surprising fact that, in the UK, 40 per cent of people over the age 50 have some kind of hearing loss — 70 per cent of over 70-year-olds — but it is even more surprising that many people do nothing about it. Almost seven million people could benefit from hearing aids and on average those who do seek help wait for as long as 10 years before turning to an audiologist to have a hearing test.
These statistics are not guesswork; they are from the national charity Action on Hearing Loss and they clearly demonstrate the challenges facing audiologists such as Nathan Gluck.
Gluck has been campaigning for 20 years to improve the hearing health of people living in north and north west London, Middlesex and Hertfordshire.
Speaking at his Golders Green head office, he says one of the most common reasons people give him for not seeking help is the stigma of wearing hearing aids: odd for a population that happily submits to regular eyesight tests and will wear spectacles without any qualms.
“The problem is that hearing aids used to be big bulky contraptions, difficult to use and before digital, technology lent a helping hand, their audio performance was pretty abysmal,” says Gluck.
“Let’s face it,” he says, “most people will have the memory of an elderly relative sitting in the corner at a family gathering trying to stop their bulky hearing aid from whistling so they can take part in the conversation.”
But these days hearing instruments can be so small they are virtually undetectable and yet have a technical performance light years ahead.
“We have an amazing range of powerful instruments which are, to all intents and purposes invisible,” says Gluck. “Some are tiny lightweight units which sit behind the ear and others are so small they disappear right inside the ear canal.”
The Moxi Now, the latest hearing aid manufactured by Unitron, is a typical example and is shown here next to a blueberry, for size comparison. Like most of these miniature yet powerful instruments, it is not currently available on the NHS.
“It’s just 20.2mm tall and 6.5mm wide, yet despite its size it offers amazing comfort, beautiful aesthetics and intuitive functionality, making it easy to use too,” says Gluck. “This tiny instrument is so small it is almost invisible behind the ear, so nobody will notice it.”
He adds: “The Moxi Now is the world’s smallest wireless receiver-incanal hearing aid and is so comfortable and light patients can easily wear it all day.”
Moxi Now’s technology automatically adapts to different listening environments, to ensure listening always sounds natural.
Of course, there are still challenges ahead: before they have a chance to experience how discreet such hearing aids are, people with hearing loss have to recognise their symptoms. Initial screening is easy. The first question is: do you mishear what people say because, in your opinion, they mumble rather than speaking clearly? Do you have problems hearing what is said in noisy environments, such as a restaurant or café, or does your partner complain you have the TV or radio on too loudly?
Those who say yes to any of these questions should have a proper hearing test — it is likely they have hearing loss. In fact, if you have any doubt about your hearing, in the interest of your future health you should seek a hearing test now.